The Canada Jay. (Submitted photo by Dan Strickland)

The Toughest of Canada’s Birds!


Posted on Thursday, April 4, 2019

The snow is melting slowly and we are looking at the end of March! April will bring many, many showers and most folks in the Valley are thinking, “spring where are you?!” Spring will eventually arrive and we will be swatting mosquitoes and watching the robins feeding their young. So far, though the nesting of birds seems A LONG TIME COMING!

But would it surprise you to know, that nesting season has already begun? Yes, for the toughest of our local birds it has! The Canada Jay (also known as the Gray Jay or Whiskeyjack) is a fairly common bird to outdoor enthusiasts, for those camping, canoeing, hunting and working in the woods, they come seeking handouts especially in the fall and winter. These gray toned visitors stash food for later consumption and aren’t shy about asking the local humans for a crust of bread or lump of cheese. They fly away to find a nook or cranny behind some tree bark or under a lichen to hide their food. Here they will roll the food in their beak where it is coated with gooey saliva, which will help it stick to its hiding spot. Researchers in neighbouring Algonquin Provincial Park have found that a Canada Jay can hide 1000 pieces of food in a day and over 100,000 pieces in a season. This industrious bird has an uncanny ability to remember where its stashed food is located, and feeds on it throughout the winter months. The stashing and retrieving of food, ranging from berries and insects to mushrooms and pieces of meat, allows the Canada Jay to be the earliest of our nesting birds. This year, the researchers saw the first nest construction begin in Algonquin Park on the 21st of February! The birding report that was submitted last week stated that they have already found female Canada Jays incubating eggs. Canada Jays have been known to occupy a nesting territory of approximately 150 hectares.

Knowing the weather we have been having recently, it makes one wonder how is this possible? Parent Canada Jays, who mate for life, build a cup shaped nest insulated with fur and feathers on the south side of a coniferous tree where they have been seen incubating eggs in -300C weather. The insulation and southern exposure along with the warmth of momma, allow the pair to hatch and fledge one to four chicks by the beginning of May. This is considered very early as most of their avian neighbours are just beginning to arrive in this nesting territory in May. This early nesting is believed to help these hardy birds teach their young the skills needed to stay 12 months a year in the harshest of conditions!

Now that’s truly one TOUGH bird!